As the country gradually reopens, the world is looking a lot different everywhere you turn. But how different will the world sound?
Music venues were among the first businesses to close entirely once the coronavirus started to spread in the U.S, and they’ll most likely be the last places to reopen. How many of your favorite clubs will survive the long shutdown? And what will the live experience be like once venues start hosting shows again?
No one can say for sure. But everyone who loves live music should be concerned about its future.
A recent survey of 2,000 music industry professionals conducted by the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) found that 90 percent of independent venue owners, bookers, and promoters feel that if the shutdown lasts six months and they don't receive federal financial assistance they will be forced to close their clubs permanently.
Thousands of jobs would be lost in that scenario, which would decimate the creative arts scene just when we need it the most.
To help prevent that, NIVA (led by their president, Dayna Frank, owner of First Avenue) has started the #SaveOurStages movement, an assembly of artists, music fans, and venue employees and owners pushing Congress to pass legislation that provides federal financial assistance, unemployment insurance, tax deferral, and mortgage and rent forbearance to shuttered music venues throughout all 50 states.
The U.K. equivalent, #LetTheMusicPlay, just helped pass an historic £1.57 billion relief package for Britain's theatres, music venues, and museums today, which features £270 million in loans and £880 million in grants to the arts and culture scene throughout the U.K. It’s going to take a comparable—perhaps even greater—commitment from the American government to help bail out the U.S. music scene.
Following an official letter sent out to U.S. House and Senate leaders in April expressing their needs, NIVA just sent out an official Artists' Letter to Congress signed by more than 1,100 bands, musicians, and entertainers, including Billie Eilish, Willie Nelson, Mavis Staples, Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Foo Fighters, Kacey Musgraves, André 3000, Bon Iver, Robert Plant, Billy Joel, and Leon Bridges. In it, these performers state:
"We are asking you to support NIVA’s request for assistance so these beloved venues can reopen when it’s safe to welcome us and our fans back in. The collapse of this crucial element in the music industry’s ecosystem would be devastating. Independent venues are asking for an investment to secure their future, not a handout. If these independent venues close forever, cities and towns across America will not only lose their cultural and entertainment hearts, but they will lose the engine that would otherwise be a driver of economic renewal for all the businesses that surround them.
“With respect and solidarity, we, as artists and as community members ourselves, urge you to pass federal legislation that will help #SaveOurStages."
Music fans interested in supporting the cause can sign a form on NIVA's site telling state legislators that saving independent music venues is important to them. You can also donate money directly to NIVA, or to funds that support the employees of specific venues throughout the country. Twin Cities music fans who want to directly help out local people in the entertainment industry who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic can donate to Twin Cities Community Trust, a relief fund for all the people out of work throughout the local music and arts scene. And you can also buy merch directly from most of these venues.
Jarett Oulman, co-owner of St. Paul's Amsterdam Bar & Hall and the 331 Club in Northeast Minneapolis, has a far more direct approach to how music fans can help these venues survive in the future. "First, vote Trump out in November," Oulman states plainly. "Second, mentally and emotionally prepare yourselves to pay more for shows when they do come back."
As to how shows will be held once live music returns, Oulman is still figuring out how that will look. "You will come up with plans that adhere to the MDH and CDC guidelines once they are actually realistic to undertake for certain sized venues," he says. "Capacity and operational volatility needs to reduce significantly before tours start being booked on a national scale. This means state to state, things need to stabilize before tours really kick in. You won't see a ton of executed tours if they have to drop half the dates and reroute over and over just to have a few messy under attended shows. So, it matters to venues here that Texas, California, Arizona, and Florida are having spikes."
When live music does return, venues will need to experiment with how they set up shows to ensure the safety of everyone in the room, while still maintaining the spontaneity that makes live shows so appealing. Many local clubs are already making adjustments, with Crooners in Fridley hosting drive-in shows where concertgoers stay in their car, as well as outdoor Lakeside Cafe performances at the venue. Icehouse is also starting to host live music on their outdoor patio, beginning with a Monday night residency in July featuring Erik Fratzke.
But many clubs don't have an outdoor option, and operating within the state mandated 25 percent capacity just isn't financially feasible for many of these music venues. They need help from the federal government, and they need it now.
The most powerful musical statements that will come out of this moment won’t be made by the artists popular and wealthy enough to emerge economically unscathed. The real message and meaning of this movement will come from the musicians who actively took part in the protests, the unrest, and the rebuilding of their communities. We need to make sure that there are stages for them to be able to tell their stories.